MEDIA
07/25/2014 11:47 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2014

ABC's Reporter In Gaza Talks About Covering 'Awful, Tragic, Heartbreaking' Story

ABC

For ABC's Alexander Marquardt, there is no comparison. The current bloodshed in Gaza is the most difficult conflict he has ever covered.

"There are so many times when there are just these awful, tragic, heartbreaking scenes," he told The Huffington Post in an interview on Thursday.

Marquardt was ABC's Jerusalem bureau chief for years (he now lives in Beirut) and he covered the 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas, so it was only natural that ABC sent him to Gaza when the latest round of violence flared up.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perhaps the trickiest and most contentious in the world to report on, but Marquardt said that certain things were actually very simple.

"When you're on the ground and you're seeing things in terms of black and white, and just the human side of the story, the massive death toll, the massive level of destruction, it doesn't matter what your politics are," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a viewer and you're coming at this story from a certain angle. When you see children and babies crushed to death in their homes or targeted in airstrikes, it's just heartbreaking."

In a conflict which has left hundreds of Palestinian civilians—many of them children—dead, Marquardt was never far from tragedy. Asked what scenes had lingered with him, he mentioned the Israeli strike that killed four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach. The strike hit just near the hotel where Marquardt and many other international journalists were staying. Some of the reporters found themselves rushing to try to save the children.

In another instance, Marquardt watched a young boy get hit by shrapnel and killed. "These are things that really do stick with you," he said.

Despite the carnage and the chaos, Marquardt said he had a relatively free hand in his reporting.

"It's very easy to move around," he said. "Hamas runs a totalitarian regime in Gaza but I've never felt like they were trying to stifle my reporting." At the same time, he said, "I've never seen a PR machine like Israel's. They are constantly bombarding you."

He also had to contend with the brave new world of reporting in the social media age. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have brought about a major shift in the way that many people are experiencing the story of the Gaza invasion. Marquardt said it had "completely changed the dynamic" of the reporting. He contrasted the coverage of the current violence with Operation Cast Lead, Israel's 2008-2009 conflict with Hamas.

"There wasn't much social media around then and Israel closed off the borders," he said. "There were very few [journalists there]. Israel was allowed to go about its business without as much scrutiny, whereas this time...there's a lot more information coming out of Gaza." He added that the new paradigm made it even more important to provide accurate and balanced coverage of the story.

Sometimes, Marquardt found that his biggest problems were located thousands of miles away, such as the day when ABC's "World News" was forced to correct an embarrassing error in its coverage of Gaza. Diane Sawyer had misrepresented a photo of Palestinian victims of an Israeli strike, telling viewers they were looking at Israelis hit by Palestinian fire. She later apologized for the mistake on the air.

The error was highlighted by some critics as a symbol of a reflexive pro-Israeli bias in the American media.

Marquardt, unsurprisingly, denied this, saying "World News" was "obviously...not trying to come down on the side of the Israelis." Sawyer, he said, "wrote me a nice note apologizing" for the incident, since he had borne the brunt of much of the backlash against the error.

He also watched, baffled, as rival NBC first pulled its Gaza reporter, Ayman Moyheldin, from the region and then reversed its decision after a social media outcry.

"It was the wrong move to pull him out," he said. "It was certainly amazing to watch the community of journalists respond so angrily."

As Moyheldin returned to Gaza, Marquardt was in the process of leaving. He is now moving on to other stories, but he said that none of them could quite match the one he just helped tell.

"There are no conflicts that come close to covering something like this," he said.

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